Deborah Minkoff Elected Federation President

December 2011

Deborah Minkoff was elected President of the Jewish Federation of Madison at the organization’s 71st Annual Meeting held November 13th. The following are Deborah’s remarks after being elected.


I am honored and humbled to stand before you as the President of the Jewish Federation of Madison.  While I was not expecting to assume this role until recently, by the end of my remarks you may conclude, “What took her so long.”

Joel and I moved to Madison in 1979, first living with my in-laws as we settled into our lives as permanent residents.  I have vivid and fond memories of Ben and Evelyn running off to monthly, Tuesday night, Madison Jewish Community Council (MJCC) Board meetings.  We rushed through dinner discussing the agenda, and possible issues of importance that night.  Three hours later, they returned, usually with Ghita Bessman and Judy Schreiber, for a debriefing, sharing a beverage of their choice, and chocolate chip cookies to dunk.  This was my first introduction to the inner workings of the organized Jewish community.

I worked with new volunteers such as Bobbie Lazarz, and Diane Seder on introductory campaign events called New Dimensions.  As we began our family, I moved on to the MJCC sponsored education programs of Gan HaYeled, Camp Shalom, and the Midrasha Hebrew High School program -- serving as Gan Co-chair with Niles Berman, and eventually co-chair and chair of the Jewish Education Panel.  Always participating as a campaign worker for the Tzedakah campaign, I stepped back from taking on a more active role at federation and devoted my volunteer efforts to Hadassah –first locally, then regionally, and then nationally.  Eventually I returned, and co-chaired the Tzedakah campaign with Dan Kaplan, joined the Board, and Executive board, and now am prepared to assume this new leadership role as president of the Jewish Federation of Madison. 

I share my past with you now for several reasons: 
1.  According to Rae Ringel, an executive coach and leadership trainer of non-profits, Lay leadership is critical to the work of non-profit organizations.  The Training and development of future leadership is a key ingredient for success.  I’ve been the beneficiary of that investment with excellent mentorship and coaching by highly skilled professional staff, and a history of outstanding leadership in the Madison Jewish community.  I especially want to thank Steve Morrison, Bobbie Lazarz, and Dina Weinbach for all their support over the years; and now I look forward to working closely with Jill Hagler in the same high level capacity.  As for my volunteer mentors – there are too many to mention by name- but I am indebted to all the outstanding volunteers I have worked with in the past, and especially my husband, Joel, who always shows more faith in me than I have in myself.

2.  I volunteer and contribute to the Madison Jewish Federation because of my commitment to the work of the mission – building a strong and unified Jewish community in Madison, Israel and throughout the world.  With the goals of ensuring Jewish continuity and Tikkun Olam, making our world a better place, The Madison Jewish Federation has a 71 year track record of outstanding service and accomplishment.  It is a privilege to take my turn in leading such an organization.

3. Third, I have spent the better part of the last 14 years actively engaged in responsibilities with National Hadassah, developing connections and friendships across the country and in Israel.  While I continue to serve on the National Board, I have stepped back my commitments, and look forward to being more actively engaged in Jewish life in Madison.  We are a grassroots organization, and relationships within our community are critically important to the good work we do.  I look forward to meeting and connecting with as many people in the community as possible.  People give to people, and people get involved because of their relationships.  The hallmark of the Federation system is in its dedicated lay leadership and peer to peer relationships.   I have both the time and desire to develop these relationships, and engage others in the work of our organization.  This past week, I attended both the Jewish Education panel and the Community Relations Committee meetings.  While I can’t commit to attending every meeting, I will certainly be in contact with each chair person, and attend a sampling of every committee meeting during the course of the year. 

There is now an email address, president@jewishmadison.org that I will monitor daily which I hope will encourage regular dialogue and communication for new ideas, concerns, etc.

4. The most famous Devorah in Jewish tradition was a prophetess and judge (1107- 1067 BCE).  The name Devorah also means bee.  The fact that the name of this leader is a lowly insect is a reminder that I must always remain humble. I stand on the shoulders of excellent past and current leadership. And there will be great leaders that follow.  As one former president explained, this organization existed before you, and it will flourish after you as well.  Enjoy your time, and lead with enthusiasm and joy, and it will be contagious.  I hope to share that passion and perspective with the Madison Jewish community.   

Next week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sara, the Life of Sara.  In this portion, Eliezer, a servant of Abraham is instructed to go and find a wife for Yitzchak, Isaac.  The Torah reiterates over and over that he is Eved Eliezer, the servant of Abraham – only wishing to fulfill his role as the messenger for good.  Like Eliezer, the role of the president is to be the messenger of good. 
Eliezer did not know here he would find a wife for Isaac, but he was determined and focused on his mission.  As I assume this role, I have the same determination, hope, and enthusiasm for our future. 

May we go from strength to strength.

Thank you.